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Living in contradiction

As I was growing up in India, I read a story about a man who had two idols in his home. One was large and rather fierce looking. The other was small, with a cheery face. Every day, morning and night, the man would carry out his worship rituals — placing fruit offerings before the idols and chanting hymns, while his son watched with great curiosity. Finally his son said, “Why are you talking to stones? These are lifeless things. They can’t speak or move or do anything, yet you spend all this time every day doing what you do.” The father grew very angry and reprimanded his son. “Don’t you dare speak that way! These are not just stones! These are our gods! We worship them, and they protect us.” The son realized he had touched a raw nerve and wisely decided to push the issue no further. But one day, in the father’s absence, the son took a big stick and smashed the little idol to pieces. Then he took the stick and placed it in the hands of the big idol. When evening came, his father walked into the house and, stunned by the sight, let out a shout. “Who did this? What happened here?” The son came running into the room, pretending to be dismayed, and said, “It has to be the big one! Look, he has a stick in his hands!” The suggestion infuriated the father, and he yelled, “Of course he couldn’t have done it!” “Why not?” asked his son. “Because he’s made of stone, that’s why! He can’t move! There’s no life in him!” The son dropped his act and said, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, haven’t I?” This obviously imaginary story makes a point. But are the gods we worship any less imaginary? Across time and across cultures, all kinds of beliefs have come and gone. One wonders how people believe some of the things they do. 

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